National home builder and Realtor groups this week expressed continuing support for federal legislation that would push large class-action lawsuits into federal court and also welcomed a separate bill that would allow professional associations to offer health insurance plans to members.

The National Association of Home Builders and National Association of Realtors said in statements that the class-action legislation should curb the number of frivolous lawsuits, which have contributed to higher real estate prices.

The Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 was approved by a 279-149 vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Senate passed an identical version of the bill last week. President Bush is expected to sign the measure into law.

“Prior to (the) vote, NAHB sent a letter to every House member urging passage and stating that the association was designating this bill as a key vote because of its significance to the housing industry,” the home builders association announced.

David Wilson, president of the home builders association, said, “Because class-action cases usually are heard in sympathetic state courts, defendants who are fearful of losing the case and facing potentially large damage awards are likely to settle out of court rather than risk a trial. This means that most class-action cases are usually settled before a court even hears the merits of the case. This legislation resolves this problem by shifting class-action cases to federal courts, which tend to be more objective in their decisions than state courts.”

The Realtors association noted that real estate firms can be targets for class-action litigation related to property management, environmental compliance and mortgage brokerage, for example. “Record class-action damage awards and case settlement costs have contributed to the rapid escalation of insurance premiums for homeowners, commercial property and liability insurance, as many property and casualty insurers choose to leave the market. The current system has forced homeowners to pay record property insurance premiums and real estate firms to absorb skyrocketing business insurance costs, costs that often end up being passed on to clients and consumers,” the association announced.

Al Mansell, president of the Realtors association CEO of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Salt Lake City, said, “We believe the interests of both our businesses and our clients will be well served by the reforms proposed by the class action bill. The Class Action Fairness Act will help curb skyrocketing insurance premiums that get passed onto consumers and real estate firms alike.”

Both groups also announced support for the Small Business Health Fairness Act, introduced this week by U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine; Jim Talent, R-Mo.; and Kit Bond, R-Mo.

A similar House bill was introduced earlier this month by U.S. Reps. John Boehner, R-Ohio; Sam Johnson, R-Texas; Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y.; and Albert Wynn, D-Md.

Wilson said many home builder companies would stand to gain from this legislation. “Association health plans will put small businesses on an equal footing with large employers and unions when it comes to negotiating lower insurance costs. In short, they will bring Fortune 500 health benefits to Main Street small businesses, their employees and working families,” he said.

Mansell said, “America’s 1 million Realtors look forward to working with Congress and the administration to make sure association health plan legislation is enacted this year.” He added, “Most Realtors are small-business people or independent contractors who struggle to find quality, affordable health care for their employees and families. Association health plans will allow small businesses to compete with large employers for workers who need good health care coverage for their families.”

Additionally, the home builders association this week expressed support for federal legislation introduced this week that would permanently repeal the so-called “death tax,” or estate tax. “Builders would prefer no death tax at all,” the association announced.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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